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What went wrong in Muni Metro’s epic Friday meltdown

A failed splice allowed more than 1,000 feet of overhead wire and supporting hardware to be torn down by an outbound Muni train between Civic Center and Powell stations Friday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said in statement to the press.

via SFMTA A Muni train car window is seen with a shattered window caused by overhead wire and equipment inside the subway in San Francisco, Calif, on Friday, April 26, 2019.

The SFMTA said the second car of the train had dragged down the wiring at 6:30 a.m., and that the operator had no idea what was happening until passengers informed them. No passengers were hurt despite shattered windows and damage to the top of the second car.

Before crews could work to replace the wiring that came down, crews had to cut away old wiring and tow the affected train out of the subway. Only then were crews able to start installing and testing the new electrical wiring.

The SFMTA said staff should have noticed the worn overhead splice during a routine subway inspection:

“We are reviewing all preventative maintenance programs to help prevent this from happening in the future. We approach every incident as an opportunity to learn and do better.”

The transit agency added that delays caused by overhead line failures are “rare.”

The early morning subway issue lasted all day and into the evening commute. Transit officials said crews had fixed the problem at around 7:30 p.m. in a blog post on the SFMTA website.

For the entire day, Muni subway passengers were left to figure out how to get work, with some passengers deciding to walk or bike instead of waiting for Muni bus shuttles or the F-Line to arrive at already-crowded transit stops along Market Street.

Other passengers who had heard about the delay before heading out to work decided just to work at home.

During the evening commute, the transit agency was running outbound service on the inbound platforms, while passengers heading downtown continued to use bus shuttles.

San Francisco Giants fans heading to Oracle Park to see the team play the the New York Yankees were also affected by the subway issue during the evening commute.

Muni Metro carries over 160,000 passengers a day and when a major issue, such an overhead wire detaching to close a crucial underground tunnel, it can have a much wider, detrimental impact on service as seen Friday.

In the blog post, the SFMTA said infrastructure issues account for 49 percent of subway delays, and that they occur due to the lack of investment from decades ago.

The transit agency said they are working on and investing in “state of repair” projects that will keep the subway moving. The blog post said:

“…But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The SFMTA’s Board of Directors approved the transit agency’s five-year Capital Improvement Program last year, which showed a $2.62 billion backlog of deferred state of repair projects.

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